Tuesday, March 03, 2009

If It's Good Enough for the Roman Legions...

I've posted about the grain known as farro before, but in a recent e-mail Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood reminded me how much I like this wheat, once a staple of the Roman Legions.

My basic approach to picking products to sell is whether it’s something I want to eat a lot of. So I’ve added farro to the inventory list. Also known as emmer, a type of wheat, farro (Triticum dicoccon) is an ancient grain from the Fertile Crescent. Once common across the Near East (the Egyptions made both beer and bread from it), it’s now mostly grown only in the mountain region of Tuscany known as the Garfagnana. But Bluebird Grain Farms in Winthrop, Washington, grows certified organic farro, and that’s where I’m getting it. I’ll be selling pints and half pints for $5 and $3 (a pint of farro weighs just under a pound).

Farro cooks up a little like wheat berries (it is, after all, a form of wheat). I get the best results soaking the berries overnight, then cooking in plenty of water for about 40 minutes. Once cooked, farro combines nicely with vegetables in composed salads, gives soups some substantial heft or tastes great with a little olive oil and salt. In places like Lucca, farro and beans frequently end up together, often with sausage.

Farro e Fagiole Con Salsicce

Soak a cup or more of farro in plenty of water overnight. Drain and simmer in 2 quarts of salted water for about 40 minutes or until tender.

Combine a cup or more of borlotti beans (aka cranberry, preferably from Ayers Creek Farm, but pintos will do in a pinch) with 3-4 cups of water, a good pinch of salt (at least a teaspoon), and a healthy glug of olive oil in a ceramic bean pot (or any ovenproof vessel, although some Italians think that beans cooked in metal pots “aren’t worth eating”). Cook in a 200° oven for a couple of hours, maybe longer, until they’re done (depends on how old the beans are...if you start to smell them, check the water and add enough to keep them barely covered).

Chop a medium onion and a couple of garlic cloves, then cook in olive oil until translucent (don’t let the garlic get brown). Add a 14 oz can of pureed or ground tomatoes, or about half of a small can of tomato paste and a cup or so of water. Add the cooked beans and farro. Serve with sausages.

Find Jim most Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 at Activspace, 833 SE Main on the corner of SE 9th and Main on the ground floor. Currently he's also having what he's calling a "Mr-President-have-pity-on-the-working-man sale" with major markdowns on many of his imported olive oils.

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